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Jimmy Fallon, “The Tonight Show” host: Teachers should make a billion dollars, and get more vacation time. They spend their days wrangling all our crazy kids. When they go out, they should get free bottomless wine …
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: That’s Jimmy Fallon singing on “The Tonight Show” earlier this week. I think voicing the thoughts of so many families. The song was a nod to National Teacher Appreciation Week, which ends today but should probably go on all year long.
Like schools across the country, the week looked very different compared to years past. Instead of apples on their desks or gift cards from parents, teachers might’ve received an apple emoji or some money on Venmo.
You know why. It’s because 47 states and the District of Columbia have ordered or recommended school closures for the rest of the school year.
Teachers across the country have taken their lessons online to try and weather this pandemic.
So today, we’ll highlight some of these teachers’ struggles and successes in navigating remote learning.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Chris Dier: We had to really try to make everything work in the virtual world. And that’s challenging to do because most teachers like myself, we don’t sign up for that. We sign up for the interaction.
We sign up for the collaboration, and we sign up for those human moments that you can’t really replicate online.
Gupta: That’s Chris Dier, 2020 Louisiana Teacher of the Year and the finalist for 2020 National Teacher of the Year.
Dier: I teach at Chalmette High School in Louisiana, right outside of New Orleans.
Gupta: Dier teaches world history to seniors, and AP human geography to freshmen — I didn’t know what that was. He said it’s sort of like anthropology. He was inspired to teach, partly because of a formative personal experience.
Dier: I was in high school when Hurricane Katrina hit. I was a senior. It was our second week, and it disrupted, you know, the entire region down here.
I was forced to go to Texas. I stayed in hotels and shelters and bounced around different schools. I missed out on a lot of big events that a lot of people look forward to their senior year.
Gupta: Sound familiar? Dier has a pretty good idea of what his current students probably feel.
Dier: It’s a time when you’re supposed to be celebrating all of your hard work, your dedication, your accomplishments, when your family’s supposed to watch you walk across that stage and cheer. So it’s — it’s a time that you’ll never get to redo and you’ll never get back.
Gupta: And that’s not just a loss for Dier’s students. Some of them will be the first in their families to graduate from high school, and the ceremony would’ve been meaningful to their relatives as well.
Dier has students who are also dreamers; undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. And he has students who are working essential jobs while they also balance online classes.
Learning online might seem easy enough if you’re a student with a computer or the internet, but Dier also has students who didn’t have the luxury of these tools.
Dier: So a lot of students who originally didn’t have internet when this happened, we were distributing work and packets and, you know, just literally papers when we were distributing food.
But my district personally has been giving Chromebooks out to students who need them and trying to collaborate with local organizations to get hot spots to get kids connected, so I think teachers all across the country are doing everything they can to get kids online and to keep that, that learning going.
Gupta: Esperanza Community School in Phoenix, Arizona, has also handed out Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hot spots to some of its students. But that’s not all the school is providing. I think a lot of us forget how intergral schools are to our communities, even if you’re not a student there.
Hannah Wysong teaches science and English at Eperanza, mostly to low-income students.
She has helped distribute food boxes and gift cards to grocery stores. But as this pandemic drags on, Wysong and her colleagues are looking ahead to long-term challenges families might face.
Hannah Wysong: Food is available in a lot of places from schools and food banks. But as this has gone on for a couple of months and parents are not working or working less, the next step that we’re working on right now is to build a fund for rental assistance.
Gupta: And that’s just the creative problem-solving Wysong has been a part of outside the classroom. After students have been set up with food and Wi-Fi is when her real job, and the real connection begins. And these teachers have come up with all kinds of new ways to do that as well.
Wysong: Something that we do normally at our school is have monthly family nights with movies or dinner or games or whatever it might be. And we were really mourning the loss of family night, and we decided to do a virtual dance party.
So we got a local deejay from a radio station, and then we invited all of the families to get on Zoom. There were, I think, between 45 and 50 people on, between families and staff. It’s pretty cute to see a bunch of little squares of third graders dancing.
Gupta: Chris Wyckoff, who teaches American history to 11th graders in North Carolina, has taken advantage of our reliance on the internet to send his students some encouragement.
Chris Wyckoff: I’ve been sending out digital cards to let them know that I still see you. I still see your work. I still see you’re working hard.
Gupta: Wyckoff has been proud of how well his students at the Johnston County Career and Technical Leadership Academy have taken to online classes. After all, they could easily just turn their video off and go do something else.
Wyckoff: Online learning, you know, it has its good and its bad even depending on the type of learner you are. And a lot of our students are capable of making the adjustment.
The conditions at home, all of those — the social and emotional atmosphere of home versus the social emotional atmosphere at school, all of those things combine to either create an atmosphere for success or failure for the students.
Gupta: Chris Dineen — this is another Chris — said there were hiccups using video conferencing at first.
Chris Dineen: We had a Zoom bomb the first or second day.
Gupta: But his middle school students at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico have come around.
Dineen: The students themselves have had to adapt to a totally different style of teaching, and they’ve actually had to become somewhat more accountable for their own behavior because of course, we can’t see them and monitor them in the ways that we normally do.
Gupta: Laurie Abrams finds this challenging, too. She’s a special education teacher on Long Island and works with 3- to 5-year-olds who have special needs.
During normal times, her work is incredibly physical and requires personalized interactions with each student. These days, she struggles to get her students to sit still in front of the camera.
Laurie Abrams: All kids do well with a schedule, but especially kids with special needs, listening issues and attending issues. They really need that. They need that routine. And the — you know, it’s very hard — it’s very hard for them.
Gupta: But, like everyone else, Abrams has come up with ways to make it work. In fact, she borrowed one method of calming her students down from a children’s yoga certification course.
Abrams: What I’m doing with my fingers is touching my thumb to my forefinger, middle finger, ring finger and pinkie. And so you have them do that. So it’s four touches and then you just say, “Peace begins with me.” And they understand that peace means quiet. And then we keep doing it.
And at any time when you feel anxious or that you need to calm down, you can just — you can just move your fingers like that.
Gupta: It’s thoughtful. It’s innovative. It’s what’s necessary.
The teachers we spoke to said they’ve mostly worked out the kinks of remote learning, and they feel optimistic about finishing the year apart from their students.
But in the long run? They’re still not so sure.
Abrams: I think these kids are young enough that if it’s just four months in the scheme of their long lives, this is not going to make the biggest difference because they didn’t have four months of preschool.
I think that in the fall, if kids can’t go back to school, if they have to learn online, I think that’s going to, you know, really impact this whole generation.
Gupta: This won’t surprise you, but Chris Dier, the Louisiana teacher whose own senior year was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina, said this pandemic highlights the need for more investment in education.
Dier: I know a lot of times when the economy starts to tank a bit, the first thing that gets cut is education. And people might say, well, why do we need as much, you know, money for education and budgets when they can do things virtually and whatnot.
But at this time, I feel like that we need more, because we need more counselors, we need more social workers, we need more therapists, we need smaller classes.
And that’s how we’re gonna get through this.
Gupta: These five teachers said the feedback they’ve gotten from students and parents has mostly been positive. But during this strange, difficult National Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s nice for them to hear that their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
So since they can’t hug their teachers in person this year, we got some amazing shout-outs from students all over who want their teachers to know that their students are grateful.
Dalton Davis: My name is Dalton Davis. I am 7 years old from Philomath, Oregon, I want to say hi to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Hobbs, and I miss her.
Mira Singh: Hello, my name is Mira Singh, and I am in seventh grade. I would like to thank all of my amazing teachers.
Aglaia: Hi, my name is Aglaia, and I’m a fourth grader. I want to give a shout-out to my awesome teacher, Mr. Fausto. He is there every day with a smile.
Cassie: Hi, my name is Cassie, I’m from Whittier, California. And thank you to all the teachers, especially my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cudler.
Christa: And I’m Cassie’s mom, Christa. I also want to say, on behalf of my 14-year-old son, David, who has autism, we appreciate the special ed teachers like Mrs. Arageen. Thanks.
Emilia Cook: Hi. I’m Emilia Cook, and I am 7 years old. I’m in second grade. I had the best teachers, and I can’t wait for the coronavirus to be over so I can go back to school and see them.
Gupta: Thanks so much for sending those in, and thank you to all the teachers who are guiding our kids through this time. I have three daughters in school right now.
I watch them get educated by teachers online, I watch the patience of those teachers and I watch my kids blossom and grow. I can’t thank you enough.
We’ll be back Monday. Thanks for listening.
“Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” is a production of CNN Audio.
Megan Marcus is the executive producer. Felicia Patinkin is the senior producer, along with Nadia Kounang and Amanda Sealy from CNN Health. Raj Makhija is the senior manager of production operations.
This week’s episodes were produced by Anne Lagamayo, Zoë Saunders and Zach St. Louis with additional help from Michael Nedelman.
Our associate producers are Rachel Cohn, Emily Liu, Eryn Mathewson and Madeleine Thompson.
Nathan Miller is our engineer, and David Toledo is the team’s production assistant.
Special thanks to executive producer of CNN Health Ben Tinker, as well as Ashley Lusk, Courtney Coupe and Daniel Kantor from CNN Audio.